'Not afraid of the Dark Lady, are you?'

“Not afraid of the Dark Lady, are you?” Alred asked, running up behind Egelric and grabbing his arm as he walked to the stables.

Egelric stopped and turned to him, surprised. “I hope Your Grace didn’t leave early on my account.”

“On the contrary,” he muttered, “it was an excellent opportunity to get away. Why don’t you let your horse rest, Egelric? I would rather walk, and I need my Squire to protect me.”

'All the way back in the dark?'

“All the way back in the dark?”

“That’s why I have you, Squire. You carry the torch.”

“Very well.”

“Where do you think the Dark Lady prefers to walk—over the downs or through the woods?” Alred asked him once they had crossed the gate.

'Where do you think the Dark Lady prefers to walk?'

“You don’t believe in the Dark Lady, do you?”

“It was a joke, but I must not sound very convincing.”

“You haven’t been yourself tonight, if I may say so.”

“You may. Which way?”

'You may.'

“The woods, if it is the same to you,” Egelric replied.

“Still on the lookout for elves?”


They walked for a while in silence—a most atypical silence on the part of Alred, though Egelric was well known for his taciturnity.

Finally Alred asked, “Egelric, are you thinking what I’m thinking?”

'Egelric, are you thinking what I'm thinking?'

“It seems unlikely,” Egelric said with a rueful smile. He had been thinking about how he was going to face Gunnilda when he went to fetch Iylaine.

“You must not be, then. But I have to tell you—I must tell someone, and I am not certain that Matilda would be the best someone in this circumstance.”

“That’s why you have a squire.”

“That’s so. Listen, Egelric, and please tell me I’m mad.”

'Please tell me I'm mad.'

“Well?” Egelric prompted after they had walked on a while without further conversation.

“Egelric…” Alred began with a sigh. “I’ve been looking all around my stables and my kitchens for your nose and have never found it, but the one place I never thought to look was the castle.”

“My… nose?” Egelric asked, bewildered.

Alred stopped walking and caught Egelric’s arm. “Did you get a good look at that baby?”

'Did you get a good look at that baby?'

“Tonight? Not a close look.” He remembered that Sigefrith had said the baby had been ill, and suddenly wondered whether Alred had not seen signs of the illness being more serious than Sigefrith believed.

“I’ve seen that baby a hundred times,” Alred muttered, shaking his head. Then he looked back up at Egelric and asked, “Did you see the way God looked at My God when Sigefrith gave him the baby?”

'That I did.'

“That I did.” And then, too anxious to wait, he asked, “Does Your Grace think the little Prince is ill?” Poor Sigefrith! The poor, poor Queen!

“Ill?” Alred laughed sardonically. “Egelric, I don’t think that baby is Sigefrith’s.”

Egelric gaped at him.

Egelric gaped at him.

“Damn!” Alred swore, smacking his fist into his open hand and pacing in a tight circle. “I should have seen it before! Damn!”

It was true the baby did not take after Sigefrith, but surely… no one had seen Maud’s parents…

“My—my nose—” Egelric stuttered, remembering suddenly what Alred had said. “You don’t think I—!”

'Not your nose, you ass!'

“Not your nose, you ass!” Alred cried, turning back to him. “If Maud said ‘Boo’ at you, you would pull your skirts up over your face and cry. I’m talking about your cousin’s nose. Malcolm, apparently, if I go by the look on Colban’s face. Colban took one look at that baby and knew. Damn!” He went back to pacing.

It was impossible. The King… the Queen… his cousin… He knew Malcolm to be a bit wild, but surely not the Queen! Not the gentle Queen! He had dug up Elfleda’s lilacs for her! And Sigefrith was Malcolm’s friend!

“Lord… you are mad,” Egelric finally said, remembering Alred’s original request.

“Thank you!” Alred said, taking Egelric by the shoulders and shaking him. “Thank you, old man! Thank you!” Then he spun away and slammed his fist against a tree trunk. “Damn!”

He spun away and slammed his fist against a tree trunk.

“What do we do?” Egelric asked, too overwhelmed to swear or punch trees.

“Damned if I know. Come on, Squire,” he announced abruptly, stalking down the path ahead of the light. “You’re coming home with me, and we are getting damned slobbering drunk and figuring this out.”

Egelric trotted after him to catch up.

Egelric trotted after him to catch up. “Lord,” he protested timidly, “I must go for Baby.”

“Then we go for her together, and you bring Baby up to the keep with you. She can sleep in Gwynn’s room—there’s still another bed in there. And you can sleep under the table after you pass out, if I don’t beat you to it. Damn!”